Blocked punt in final seconds lifts Badgers for win

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Wisconsin Badgers and Minnesota Gophers

have seen just about everything in their 115-year rivalry.

Well, maybe now they have.

Jonathan Casillas blocked a punt and Ben Strickland recovered it in the end zone with 30 seconds left to complete a stunning rally and lift No. 23 Wisconsin to a 38-34 victory over No. 22 Minnesota on Saturday.

"When you think you've seen it all, you haven't seen it all," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said.

With the Golden Gophers leading 34-31, Justin Kucek lined up to punt at the Minnesota 5. Kucek dropped the snap, picked up the ball and tried to get the punt off, but Casillas raced through for the block. Strickland then recovered it for the winning score.

It was a shocking turn of events for the Badgers (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten), who appeared to be headed for their second loss in a row after failing to complete a comeback bid in last week's 51-48 loss at Northwestern.

The Gophers (5-2, 2-2) led 34-24 with 3:27 to play after Gary Russell's second touchdown of the day.

But the Badgers came right back, driving 71 yards in 1:17 and pulling within 34-31 on John Stocco's 21-yard TD pass to Brandon Williams.

Ken DeBauche's onside kick hit off of Minnesota's Trumaine Banks and was booted by a Badger all the way down the field. Laurence Maroney, who rushed for a career-high 258 yards and joined Michigan State's Sedrick Irvin and Wisconsin's Ron Dayne as the only backs in Big Ten history to begin their careers with three straight 1,000-yard seasons, fell on the ball at the Minnesota 11.

After running all over Wisconsin the entire game, the Gophers couldn't get one last first down, setting up the punt block.

The play stunned the Gopher fans and whipped the legion of red-cloaked Badger fans into a frenzy.

"It was a normal punt and I was going to kick it to the right side and stuff happens," Kucek said. "I feel real bad about it, but hopefully we'll bounce back. ... I just didn't catch it cleanly, and that's about it."

The ball nearly trickled out of bounds for a safety, which would have kept the Gophers in front, but Strickland pounced on it just in time.

"As soon as I blocked it, I thought, 'We've got to get this, we've got to get this,'" Casillas said.

Minnesota's Jakari Wallace fumbled on the ensuing kickoff and DeAndre Levy recovered. The Badgers ran out the clock, touching off a wild celebration that culminated in the Badgers once again hoisting Paul Bunyan's Axe.

At least 30,000 Badger fans were in attendance, and they lingered long after the game was over, soaking in one of the most amazing victories in this bitter border rivalry.

"I've been in some crazy shootouts, but never one like that," said Alvarez, who is in his final season as Badgers coach. "This is as good of a win as I've had."

Tied at 10 at halftime, the Gophers completely controlled the action in the second half. They rushed for an astounding 411 yards, including a career-high 139 yards from Russell.

With redshirt freshman quarterback Tony Mortensen making his first career start for the injured Bryan Cupito, the Gophers called just four passes in the second half.

Russell's first TD of the day, a 37-yarder, gave them a 27-17 lead late in the third quarter.

Brian Calhoun, who rushed for all but 14 of his 110 yards in the second half, scored his third touchdown of the day on a 1-yard run in the fourth to make the score 27-24.

But Minnesota responded with a 19-play scoring drive that chewed up 7:48. Russell's 1-yard run seemed to vanquish the Badgers' hopes and legitimize the Gophers, who beat Michigan on a last-second field goal last week.

"To go from such a dramatic finish seven days ago to another one today, but with different emotions, really hurts," coach Glen Mason said. "I really feel for my team right now. It almost hurts worse to lose like this than when you get killed."

Undaunted after Russell's touchdown, Stocco -- who threw a game-ending interception against the Wildcats last week -- led the Badgers right down the field and Wisconsin's porous defense stiffened when it had to, despite giving up 724 yards rushing combined the last two weeks.

The crushing loss overshadowed an electrifying day by Maroney, who had a 93-yard touchdown run, but also had a 14-yard score called back by a holding penalty in the third quarter. Jason Giannini missed a 40-yard field-goal attempt on the possession, giving the Badgers the opening they needed.

"When I walked out to shake Barry's hand, we both said the same thing to each other," Mason said. "When you think you've seen it all, here comes something new in football. Except, he had a smile on his face and I didn't."